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Haley Moss, becomes first openly autistic person admitted to Florida bar

She may be Florida's first lawyer with autism. And she's out to change lives and minds.

Josh Hafner, USA TODAYPublished 9:20 p.m. ET Feb. 21, 2019 | Updated 5:51 a.m. ET Feb. 22, 2019

Digitability will be hosting a Fireside Chat with Haley Moss on April 12th. Visit our registration page for more details.

 

Haley Moss is one month into her practice as a lawyer. So far, so good.

She has laser focus, a photographic memory and an extreme eye for detail — invaluable assets for poring over endless briefs and reports at Miami-based firm Zumpano Patricios.

And what's more, she just might be making history: In January, Moss raised her hand, took an oath and became known as Florida's first lawyer living openly with autism.

Her admission to the Florida Bar marked a key milestone in a life filled with them. Moss' diagnosis with autism, at age 3, came with warnings that she might not finish high school, get a driver's license or make a friend.

The Parkland native did all those things and more, earning two bachelor's degrees — in criminology and psychology — by age 20 before graduating from the University of Miami School of Law in May 2018.

Zumpano Patricios now calls Moss "one of the first documented autistic attorneys to join the Florida Bar and a major law firm," though firm co-founder Joe Zumpano believes "she may be one of the first nationally."

"I hired her the moment I met her,"  said Zumpano, who has a 16-year-old son with autism. In Moss, he saw "a brilliant person with a brilliant mind."

At the firm, Moss specializes in anti-terrorism and healthcare, fields that entail massive swaths of information. Cases can have a million documents, and Moss is tasked with remembering names, bank accounts and relationships along with deciphering "the games that are played" in healthcare cases, Zumpano said.

"So when you’ve someone with an exceptional memory ability and an exceptional ability to connect people, places and things, that’s a tremendous asset for any law firm," he said. "And Haley brings that to the table.”

 

Moss looks forward to growing in her legal career and finds it easy to give her all at work, she said. It's not the job that's proved hard for her.

"The things that are hardest for me are actually outside of the office, such as driving and daily living skills," she said. "Starting a career is a huge transition for anybody, but is monumental for autistic people as it means we have to establish new routines."

Moss didn't use words until around age 4, a common symptom of autism. When she did speak, much of it was echolalia, an echoing repetition of others' words. "Kind of like a parrot," she said.

She could, however, put together 100-piece puzzles as a toddler. Her mother told her: "Different isn’t bad. It’s just different, and different can be extraordinary.”

Moss realized the power of her voice as a teen, when she spoke at an Autism Society of America event and saw how her story encouraged others.

She's since penned two books on her experiences: "Middle School — The Stuff Nobody Tells You About: A Teenage Girl with ASD Shares Her Experiences," and "A Freshman Survival Guide for College Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders."

Moss' mother taught her to embrace her diagnosis. She learned her weaknesses, but also her strengths. She became more self-aware, more confident, she said, until she pursued law — a profession that leveraged her skills, her love of writing and her desire to help people.

Huge companies have taken steps to hire workers with autism in recent years, including JP Morgan, Microsoft, Ford and Ernst & Young, CBS reported last year.

Zumpano hopes Moss' story can show that just because someone "is neurologically diverse doesn’t mean that they may not have strengths greater than our own.”

Follow Josh Hafner on Twitter: @joshhafner

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